Although we have been stressing a Quebecor Media Inc./Astral Media blackout for some time now we felt it important to write a response to commentary written by QMI that simply cannot be ignored.
In the past two days QMI has run two stories locally that smear our campaign and specifically target myself, Dylan Powell, labeling me a “cult leader.” The first story was written by Niagara Falls Review reporter John Law and the second was a UR Voice citizen journalist piece written by Susan Jacobs.
Niagara Falls Reporter John Law played an integral part in M.A.D. calling for a black out of QMI. After years of completely ignoring demonstrations, QMI had moved to a strategy of dismissing or downplaying demonstrations and John Law’s article covering the Convergence on John Holer II demo was an illustration of this. John ignored the substance of the demonstration and instead focused all of his attention on two neighbours, in a neighbourhood of dozens, who reacted negatively to the demonstration and created a 20 minute incident during a 5 hour demonstration. We called that article out as intentionally misleading, initiated a black out that included Astral Media - they had just ran an opinion piece at the same time referring to ex employees as “quitters” - and continued to move forward with press outlets that were a) interested in our message b) willing to develop a relationship. Out of this I personally had numerous conversations with Niagara Falls City Editor Corey Laroque who reached out wondering how we could rectify this conflict. Out of those conversations we were able to develop a relationship where stories that had wrongly cited a position from M.A.D. were changed and where the tone of press articles leading into the demonstration were balanced and issue focused - including an editorial plea from Corey Laroque himself. As the demonstration approached Corey let me know that a Niagara Falls Review reporter, Dan Dakin, would be on site and hoped we would make time for him. Because the Review had shown good faith after John Law’s article we made time with Dan and also made time for Corey as they both attended the demonstration (I believe both also entered the gates). After the end of the demonstration I gave a quick interview with Dan which was quoted in his two articles published after the demonstration. Dan and Corey both know that people entering the facility was not organized or facilitated by M.A.D. and Dan printed such information within his articles. At the time when people were entering the facility I was actually setting up the PA system for Meghan Connelly. Seeing the mass enter the park, I went in as well. I went for numerous reasons, to try and protect demonstrators, to ensure that others were filming police interactions and also to express my anger. My action of entering the park does not signal that this action was organized by M.A.D. in the same way that Dan or Corey entering the park does not signal the Niagara Falls Review endorsing the action (EDIT: Corey Laroque arrived at 1:45 and did not enter the park). I, along with almost 20 other people, organize with Marineland Animal Defense. We create autonomous space for each other to push for collective social change. John Law’s obsession with my entrance into the park would just as soon be spun as cowardice if I did not - a sure sign of a cult leader who leads his masses to the edge and watches them put themselves in a situation to be criminalized. Similarly, Law has chosen other angles of convenience - centering on the fact that the administrators of our social media pages - there are 6 in total - pull down commentary that is oppressive (racist, sexist, homophobic) as well as comments that are slanderous or defend captivity (we do not feel that is a debatable issue). If we left those comments up Law would just as surely print them as representative of M.A.D. as a whole - an illustration of how “violent” and regressive we are or an illustration of how “divided” we are and how our message is not clear. At the end of the day, those reading John’s article are reading commentary from someone who was not at the demonstration that day and someone who is clearly still angered over our criticism of their previous coverage.
As for comments left on QMI sites stating that we threatened suit over the story - I personally sent a message to Corey Laroque after seeing the story which said “that opinion article is a lawsuit.” Corey responded immediately and put me in touch with managing editor Steven Gallagher. In talking with Steven I let him know that our position was that John can write whatever he wants about me personally, but that his assertion that we organized and or planned for people to enter the park was false and extremely dangerous. We demanded a retraction of that statement and pointed out that the Review’s own staff who were present had already stated otherwise. Instead of a retraction that story was pulled down. Earlier this morning another QMI paper, the St. Catharines Standard released a UR Voice column from Susan Jacobs - her first - which continued on with the venomous rhetoric that John Law pushed the day prior. It is slanderous and as one commenter pointed out actually counter to the comment policy that the St. Catharines Standard has set. Following that, later this afternoon John Law’s article was resurrected with minor edits and a bit more venom added as John was clearly embarrassed by having his first attempt pulled down. Both of these articles are a departure even for QMI papers and both speak volumes of a local news monopoly who intentionally ignored issues surrounding Marineland for years. An ex-Standard employee contacted me last night relaying the shift in corporate policy towards Marineland after a strike broke the union of journalists and the independent paper was bought up by a corporate monopoly. After years of environmental reporters having a critical eye on Marineland and the Standard rejecting family visits to Marineland; the Standard was back to ignoring demonstrations, writing puff articles about new babies at Marineland and also back to holding their company family day events on site. Since 1992, 14 orca whales have died at Marineland - how many QMI stories have focused on this? In recent memory John Holer evicted 47 families which resulted in the suicide of Paula Millard - how many articles did John Law write about that? I could go on forever. John Law’s obsession with smearing demonstrations is a perfect example of how this issue has been able to get this bad for this long - QMI reporters had access to a lot of this information and more for a very long time and they all decided to sit on it, either personally, or with their editors. There is a reason this investigation broke with the Toronto Star.
Aside from this, it’s important to confront the assertion of the “cult” of Marineland Animal Defense. John and I had not spoken for quite a while and he messaged me the other day asking for my profession and asking why I could be seen taking off my Marineland Animal Defense shirt in video of the demo. I know John doesn’t think I am stupid and I knew this message was a “fuck you” and nod that John was working on a take down article. I responded with absurd statements to message back to John that I knew what he was up to. Later in the day I also heard from others who were contacted for statements where John was clearly attempting to drive a wedge between different opposition members - he didn’t get those statements so they conveniently never made it to print. For those who are actually involved on the ground it is no secret that Marineland Animal Defense is a collective. As I stated before we have close to 20 members in our organizing hub. More than a quarter of those are spokespeople on this issue. The group - along with the Niagara Animal Defense League - is organized non-hierarchically which means no one holds any official title or position and every member has an equal say in all maters. John Law, Susan Jacobs, and basically anyone who feels passionately about these issues could come to a Niagara Animal Defense League open meeting - bring forward a proposal, access resources, set strategy and also block any proposals (which need 75% in favor to pass and no blocks.) It is also worth mentioning that this structure is all volunteer - meaning that no one derives a red cent from our organizing. If this sounds like the structure of a cult to you I think you need to brush up on how cults actually form, operate and grow.
These issues illustrate the larger problem with the media monopoly that current exists in Niagara and the extreme power that QMI can wield in attempting to smear and destroy character. It is our position that a radical independent news source has to be a priority for anyone with any idea of social justice in this region. We are being drowned out by a corporate media source that will ignore, smear, dismiss and destroy ANY attempts at advancing social justice in the region. There needs to be solidarity in this recognition.
Beyond this, there is one thing which I hope John Law feels the most shame and regret for with his article and it has nothing to do with me. In my opinion, the most disturbing part of the article is John Law’s defense of police brutality and the singling out and assault of a female demonstrator that day. NRP officers targeted numerous shorter females that day in the park attempting to prey on people they felt would be intimidated. Instead, they got earfuls and defiant responses from people who refused to accept their “power.” If there is one thing I hope John regrets and feels ashamed about it is ignoring this abuse of power and smearing the resistance of those who were preyed on for their perceived weakness. I don’t care if John Law wants to write commentary that makes John Holer’s lawyers salivate - ignoring and dismissing the assault of Chantal Godin is inexcusable. For John’s sake I hope he never has a politically active daughter.
John, Susan Jacobs and any other armchair pundit need to remember that radical movement building is what corporate journalists write about - not what they do. John Law and QMI have done everything they can to oppose demonstrations at Marineland and after numerous articles we still continue to place hundreds of people in front of Marineland in record numbers and this will not stop. At the end of the day, I think it is this realization that angers John the most - the realization that his opinion on this issue really does not matter. Whether or not QMI employees were just playing nice in order to get coverage on Oct 7th we will no longer be extending or providing space for any kind of reconciliation or de-escalation. QMI is implicated in the long list of organizations that covered this issue up and they will wear it - just as the Niagara Falls Humane Society, OSPCA, Madeleine Meilleur, Niagara Falls City Council and others will wear it.
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